Historic Harvard heart disease study questioned

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 14th September 2016

An analysis published this week by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has said a 1967 Harvard review of studies into the links between sugar, fat and heart disease, was deliberately distorted to minimise the role of sugar and instead point to saturated fats.

The Harvard project was initiated in 1964 by the Sugar Research Foundation, now called the Sugar Association, which:

  • sponsored the study,
  • selected the papers to be reviewed,
  • and received drafts of the review

The New England Journal of Medicine, which published the Harvard paper, did not begin to require financial disclosures until 1984.

One of the three scientists involved, D. Mark Hegsted, became head of nutrition at the US Department of Agriculture and helped draft the 1977 forerunner to the US government’s dietary guidelines.

A second member of the team, Frederick J Stare, became chairman of Harvard’s nutrition department.

In the decades since, health authorities in America and Australia have encouraged people to reduce their saturated fat intake in order to improve their health.

Responding to JAMA’s published analysis, the Sugar Foundation has said it should have exercised greater transparency in all of its research activities but pointed out that such disclosures were not the norm when the original study was published.

“We question this author’s continued attempts to reframe historical occurrences to conveniently align with the currently trending anti-sugar narrative, particularly when the last several decades of research have concluded that sugar does not have a unique role in heart disease,” the Sugar Association said in a statement.

“Most concerning is the growing use of headline-baiting articles to trump quality scientific research—we’re disappointed to see a journal of JAMA’s stature being drawn into this trend.

The Sugar Association is always seeking to further understand the role of sugar and health, but we rely on quality science and facts to drive our assertions,” the association said.